Seitz on Arrow: Archery and Acrobatics, CW-Style

Photo: Jack Rowand/Copyright, The CW, LLC All Rights Reserved

The best, maybe only, reason to watch Arrow (CW, Wednesdays, 8 p.m.) is its star’s physicality. Canadian actor Stephen Amell (Regenesis, Hung) plays the title character, the alter ego of billionaire playboy Oliver Queen — a vigilante archer who slinks around at night à la Batman. Amell is intense and sincere. He has the barely suppressed smirk and Kubrickian I’m-gonna-eat-your-liver glare of the young Billy Zane, and although he has a bodybuilder’s torso, brawny and cut, he’s agile, too. The producers make sure to shoot bits and pieces of the show’s Cuisinart-edited action from a distance, so you know it’s him vaulting fences, doing upside-down sit-ups, and swinging from chains. At a press conference last summer, the show’s executive producer, Greg Berlanti (Everwood), said Amell does 25 percent of the show’s stunts; Amell later told reporters he would have corrected that figure to 75 percent but didn’t want to stress out his boss. 

Granted, behind-the-scenes trivia does not a satisfying show make; a first-rate comic-book star turn won’t do the trick, either, alas. Based on the DC Comics title — which was so derivative of Batman that the hero admitted modeling his own lair on Bruce Wayne’s Batcave — Arrow is sincere and energetic but visually undistinguished. It’s further hampered by a TV budget and content restrictions that stop the show from being as dark and perverse as it probably wants to be. Oliver, for instance, is theoretically traumatized after being shipwrecked and presumed dead for five years, following a boating accident that claimed the life of his power broker daddy (Jamey Sheridan) and the sister of his girlfriend, Laurel (Katie Cassidy). That Oliver was having a secret affair with said sister only deepens his guilt and pain. But, for the most part, we don’t really feel the hero’s agony; we just have to take his word for it, because while he delivers monologues about his misery and waxes eloquent on how his stay on the island changed him, Arrow makes Oliver seem fearsomely capable — a classic comic-book man-of-action. It’s as if the show is writing psychological checks that its format can’t cash.

At this point, the supporting characters and main plot (basically Batman by way of Hamlet) aren’t doing much for me, but Arrow isn’t devoid of promise. The pilot has a tip-of-the-iceberg quality that would be more tantalizing if the storytelling didn’t feel so rushed. (Too bad the CW doesn’t do two-hour premieres.) I might return periodically for Amell, whose acrobatic daring reminded me of how much fun I had as a little kid watching The Crimson Pirate and The Flame and the Arrow, which amounted to 80 minutes of Burt Lancaster and his buddy Nick Cravat running, jumping, tumbling, and diving. Somebody make a show like that, please.